Will Addison ready and willing to add to Joe Schmidt’s options
Versatile Ulster player set to be included in the Ireland squad for the November Tests
Will Addison takes on Leicester Tigers’ Kyle Eastmond during the Champions Cup clash at the Kingspan Stadium last week in Belfast. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad for four Tests in November is due to be announced next Wednesday and is likely to contain the name Will Addison, thereby vindicating a decision the 26-year-old Cumbrian born player made last April to leave the Sale Sharks and join Ulster in the summer.
Addison, a former England Under-20 international who joined the Manchester club as a teenager and was captain in his last season there, had a clause inserted in his contract that stipulated if an Irish province declared an interest he could invoke an early release.
He qualifies for Ireland through his mother, who hails from Fermanagh. He explained: “My mum is from Enniskillen, she grew up there, then went to Trinity (College), came over to England and met a farmer. I have a good strong family connection in Enniskillen and my aunties have been given me some good home cooking every weekend.”
He’s an excellent player, a beautifully balanced runner, quick with good hands and an appreciation of space; where to find it and how to exploit those gaps. His versatility – he can play, fullback, wing, outside centre and as he demonstrated for a short time in last weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup win over the Leicester Tigers, isn’t too shabby when filling in at outhalf – is a considerable asset.
Schmidt is well aware of those qualities and invited Addison to train with the Ireland squad in the build-up to the second Test against Australia during the summer.
“I was on holiday in Melbourne during the June series so I managed to do a little bit of training with the Ireland team. I loved that and love the environment I’m in at the moment so it’s really pushing me to be a better player,” said Addison of the experience.
His season has been curtailed somewhat by injury. Last weekend was just his third competitive game for Ulster but in that timeframe he’s scored two tries, including one in the victory over the Tigers.
Ulster’s defence coach, the recently retired Irish international Jared Payne, is understandably someone to whom Addison has gravitated toward given that Payne played fullback and centre with distinction at Test level.
“I’ve made a connection with JP which I need to have because he covered a fair few positions when he was playing, and he’ll be someone I’ll be picking the brains of. I’m really lucky to have a coach like Jared who has played every single one of those positions to the highest level.”
Payne is not the only familiar face at Ulster, as Addison played alongside, backs’ coach Dwayne Peel, when the two were at the Sale Sharks. Addison confided in his former team-mate when mulling over the decision to join Ulster and admitted to being excited by a fresh challenge that came at the right time in his rugby career.
He understood that the Irish province had lost a tranche of senior players to retirement and that there would be regeneration in personnel terms required under a new coaching axis but that it also potentially represented the perfect opportunity to put himself in contention to play international rugby provided he made a positive impression with Ulster.
Peel had no doubt about Addison’s credentials as person or player as he outlined: “He’s a constant threat with ball in hand and he’s a silky runner. I played with him when he was a young guy and you could see he had some good qualities then.
“I was really keen to get him here because I knew he could add to our squad. Speaking from personal experience and from what I’ve seen, I think he’s doing an excellent job. He’s a good rugby player, you put him in any team and he’s going to show his qualities.
“I don’t think we’ve seen half of what he can do yet. He’s got a good kicking game, good distribution and he looks like a classy runner. He shows good desire as well across the board. He’s a tough guy, gets up for balls well, chases kicks.”
Ulster will need all of those qualities when they travel to Paris at the weekend to take on last season’s beaten finalists in the Champions Cup, Racing 92. The Irish province’s performance in the second half against the Tigers was the perfect tonic for what had been a couple of really disappointing displays in defeats to Munster and Connacht.
However they’ll need to improve appreciably on the renaissance against Leicester just to be competitive in France.
Addison’s preferred position is outside centre and his midfield partnership with Stuart McCloskey, even in its infancy, looks to have a nice balance. He’ll want another polished performance at the weekend before potentially swapping the white jersey for a green one next month.